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mI visited Agape Hope House in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this month. My thoughts and emotions ran the gambit that first day as we spent 6 or 7 hours with the children in the orphanage and then talked (and prayed) with Oliver and Maggie that day and over the next few days. My thoughts have turned back to Kenya and the children many times in the two weeks I have been home. Today, I hope to convey something of the raw… actually a better word is pure, emotion that God is stirring in me as I pray and ponder what I can do to help… how can I further God’s work in these children’s lives and in the lives of those God wants to use to join Maggie and Oliver, LJ and Danee, Coleman and Serving Orphans Worldwide, and me in ministering to “the least of these”.

 

The smiles belie a sad reality. Opportunity in Kenya is scarce. The path ahead for these children is not well trod. There are many obstacles in their path and the way is overgrown and hardly discernable. Yet smile they do. Because they are children they don’t comprehend how difficult the path ahead is.

  • These children have never slept in their own bed… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never had a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese, or McDonalds, or the skating rink… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never bought a new piece of clothing or shoes… and yet they smile.
  • These children don’t have a clue what it is like to have your own room, your own bed, your own “stuff”… and yet they smile.
  • These children eat every meal in masse, attend class in masse, go to bed in masse, and generally get attention in masse. With individual attention given by so few to so many, rare is the child who knows the tender love and attention my children (and grandchildren) get on a regular basis… and yet they smile.
  • The mental picture of “Mom” and “Dad” for many of these children is sketchy… and yet they smile. (Thank God for Maggie and Oliver who pour into them as much as they humanly can and who bring some balance to the term Momma and Daddy.)
  • These children have never had anyone wash their clothes, make their beds, clean up their room… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never had a choice of what they would like to eat… and yet they smile.

But, because of Agape Hope House and a few faithful donors these children have hope and a window of opportunity that is greater than their peers living outside the compound walls. The path from where they are may have as many obstacles, but the education, the encouragement, the guidance, and the faith they gain at Agape Hope House equips them to navigate a path to a better life. Today there are those who have walked the path to a better, faith-filled life of adulthood from Agape Hope House. While still a challenging path, knowing that others have taken the path and been successful is in itself a great encouragement. Some of those who have grown into adults with the benefit of Agape Hope have returned to mentor, to support, and to help.

The love of Jesus and the children is the motivator for Oliver and Maggie. They have given their lives to the work. The ½ acre piece of ground with 19 buildings, 140 orphans the day I was there, and a school enrolment of 487 stands as a light in a dark and difficult environment. The contrasts on this day buffeted me. The time of play with the children was just plain fun. The talk with some of the children on how they came to be at Agape Hope tore at my heart. The shy smiles of some and the mugging for the camera by others made me laugh. Noticing the girl sitting alone after doing her laundry while all the others played made me wonder – “what’s her story?” And every time a child slipped their hand in mine or Coleman’s or one of the other adults the bitter sweetness of the moment stung and stirred.

If this touches you, stirs you, or simply makes you curious, please take a few moments to look up Serving Orphans Worldwide on the internet at soworldwide.org. Visit Agape Hope Children’s Home on their page to learn more about the work Oliver and Maggie are doing for children in Nairobi.  Finally please join us in prayer.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ‘ Matthew 25:31-40

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I recently traveled to Kenya to support some friends who are serving in an orphanage and school in Nairobi. It was an awesome trip and I was greatly encouraged by the Davis family’s faithfulness in serving the Lord and the dozens of young people under their charge. I told a friend last night that the trip was amazing, but somehow that word really isn’t sufficient. My wife and I travel for leisure a fair amount and seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, and making new friends is not a new experience for me. My common response is that a trip is “amazing”. This was so much more than that. It was inspiring. It was hard work. It was uplifting talking to LJ and Danee about the work. It was wonderful to hear from the Lord frequently and be able to obey with the encouragement and activity that He directed.

 

It weighed on my heart to see the poverty, filth, and lack of opportunity that is so much more prevalent than in the USA (or any of the places we travel to for fun). But as heavy as that was, the light of God’s goodness in the work being carried out stood out in stark, highly desirable contrast. There are many lessons that I have taken from the trip. Some were fully formed while I was there. Some are still being processed. Yesterday we hosted friends for our home group and the Lord brought a new consideration to light that I want to share today.

Maturing in faith and becoming a seasoned Christian will always include steps out of our comfort zone. In fact, growth as a believer will be an on-going series of steps that progressively move us from a place of comfort and ease into new territory that will often be a little scary and uncomfortable. But it is in stepping into the new that we learn to trust in Jesus’s presence and provision more than our own abilities and strength. I used to think that the word comfort meant ease and leisure. The actual root of the term comfort means “with strength”. Com = with, fort comes from the same root as fortress or fortification – a place of strength. When we are comforted, we are given strength to endure whatever difficulty, trial, or challenge we are encountering. Being comforted is a good thing. Being comfortable is in itself not a bad thing. However, as I have discussed in previous posts, there are times when the good can become an enemy of the best. And God wants the best for His children.

So what is the problem with being comfortable and why does God want us to move out of our comfort zone? The issue is not that God is a killjoy. Joy, comfort, and peace are great gifts He provides. But these are by-products not the end product. The end is a deepening relationship with Him and a greater intimacy with the lover of our soul. It is God’s desire that each one of us grow to know Him so well that we live in constant communion with Him. Prayer without ceasing is more than a pious platitude, it is an accurate description of the life God wants to lead us into. Which is where our personal comfort zone can become a hindrance rather than a good thing.

The Creator of the universe is without limits. His love is truly beyond our comprehension, but He wants us to experience it in ever greater amounts. To do so often means we must let go of our existing beliefs and understanding to experience the next greater level of His love. The same is true of His wisdom, His faithfulness, His mercy, His grace. Each time we let go of our current state of satisfaction and lean into a holy hunger for more of Him, we will experience a stretching and growth that reveals more of God’s nature, and by definition, will result in a degree of loss of the negatives of the world’s perspective. For me personally, this stretching often includes a letting go of self-reliance in some area to gain a greater God-reliance.

I saw this in Kenya. It was evident in my friends LJ and Danee. Masai Village-14It was also true in me. God’s specific word to LJ was “to prepare the land”. The orphanage had fallen into disrepair. Mismanagement had resulted in the loss of the license as a children’s home and much of the 14-acre compound was overgrown with brush and vegetation. The entire family responded to the call to prepare the land. Now for many of us, traveling overseas can be a daunting experience. That increases when the travel is to a third world country. Raise it another notch when we are placed next to the 2nd largest slum in the world. Kibera Children's Center-43Oh, for good measure, take the entire family with children ages 15, 14, 13, and 9 in tow. Kibera Children's Center-53I know very few people who would be able to be stretched that far. But the path the Lord has led Danee and LJ on has been a path of consistent next steps of trusting God as they go a little further out of their comfort zone, only to see Him provide exactly what was needed after each step.

While I was there, I witnessed LJ assuming the new role of overall Operations Manager for the entire compound. By his own admission, LJ is a country boy from rural South Carolina. He did not aspire to running an orphanage and school, but as I witnessed while I was there, LJ and Danee are faithfully doing whatever is required in leading, guiding, and serving the community. And the land itself is beginning to flourish. A ¾ acre vegetable garden is up and growing. Kibera Children's Center-91Soon it will be a major supplement to the food provisions for the 84 children getting their meals at LifeSpring. The livestock are multiplying. The third fluffle of rabbits are being nurtured and rabbit hutches were built while I was there.

 

Chickens roam the grounds during the day with baby chicks sticking close to mama hen for protection. Goats graze on grass where brambles once grew. To support the growing campus, LJ has hired widows and young men in desperate need of employment. The land is well on its way to being prepared.

LJ’s work as an instrument and controls technician prepared him for some of the work. I chuckle though because Google has come to the rescue many times as they encounter new situations they have never dealt with before. (Like letting me know that a group of baby bunnies is called a fluffle!) In one instance they were talking to one of the widows who had been hired to tend the garden. In Kenya all the schools are in English, so if you have had the benefit of attending school you are liable to speak decent English. This widow, who cares for her grandchild in the Kibera slum, knows zero English therefore she has never been to school. Kibera Children's Center-98Trying to communicate to her that LJ had bought four tin sheets to replace the plastic she was living under in Kibera was both humorous and deeply touching. Google translate had to translate into Swahili so the widow could understand that some men would be coming by to help her. Kenyans don’t cry. Stoic persistence to survive doesn’t leave room for expressing much emotion, but the emotion flickered on her face when she realized the act of kindness being done for her. Kibera Children's Center-93

LJ and Danee went to Kenya following the Lord’s clear leading. But following the Lord’s leading and knowing all that we are getting into are often two different things. In some cases, the Father will give us a degree of insight into what’s ahead. I think of Paul the apostle heading to Jerusalem where he would be arrested. God clearly told him to go to Jerusalem. And he was also clearly told that difficulty was ahead. But God gave Paul an assurance that walking this difficult path was God’s will and that God would be with him. Paul was called out of his comfort zone over and over again. In stepping into God’s call out of the comfort zone and into the unknown, Paul grew into the apostle God created him to be. Today the Church is blessed because of Paul’s faithfulness in living outside of his comfort zone since much of the New Testament was written by Paul.

As the Lord opened my eyes to the reality of our growth as believers being tied to stepping out of our comfort zone, I realized all the saints in the Word were taken out of their comfort zone. Abraham left his family, his land, and ventured many long and difficult miles to a “promised” land. There was comfort in the land of Haran, but God’s call was to step out and follow Him. Mary was a young woman engaged to a kind carpenter, when an angel said you have been chosen but it will take you out of your comfort zone. Mary said “let it be done to me as you have said” and she stepped out of her comfort zone and into God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. Jesus was a good Jewish lad, well versed in the law, but God had a plan and a call upon His life. Jesus was unique. He was fully God, but at the same time fully human. Being fully human, He experienced a degree of comfort as a carpenter’s son, then apprentice, and finally working as a carpenter in His own right. But when God said step out of your comfort zone and into my call upon your life He did. Jesus ministered for three years outside of His comfort zone – forty days fasting in the desert, speaking to crowds that wanted signs and wonders, but not necessarily the all-in life with God He was espousing, doing battle with the persons of power and influence who chaffed at His familiarity with God, and finally suffering a painful and humiliating torture and execution at the hands of both Roman authorities and Jewish leaders. Jesus modeled a life of stretching our human boundaries of comfort in faithful response to God’s call to something better, something richer, to life in union with God and His unique plan for each person.

Friends I am deeply stirred that God has a call upon every person into a life that is beyond amazing. He has a call upon you. But it is a journey that will frequently take us out of our comfort zone. God will ask us to step in faith in Him and not in sight by using our own wisdom and strength. We will have to rely upon Him. We will be stretched. At times it won’t be “fun”. At times it will even be difficult. But as we listen and lean upon Him, He will be with us to bring about His good will in us and through us. And this is so much better than the “good” we might experience in the comfort zone. Because it is the best.

What burden or desire has the Lord put on your heart that gets shelved because it is outside your comfort zone?

Where do you see injustice, need, or sin that really pushes your buttons, but thus far you have done little beyond complain about it?

Do you have a passion for something the Word says to do, yet thus far you have not truly considered the possibility of you doing something just because?

Take a few moments and ask the Father to bring your next step into clear focus. Ask with a willingness to take the next step. Realize these will not usually be huge leaps out of the blue, but a gradual revelation where God draws you to a faith place that makes each progressive step a stretch, but doable with a little courage and trust in the One Who has provided for you in the past. For the Davis’ it was a few years walking out many progressive next steps into mission work. For me going over to help them was similar, taking about a year of progressive faith steps. Having been, my faith is stirred to help even more. Will I be more comfortable? Walking in God’s grace and lifted by His love, I reckon I have all the strength a person needs. So the answer has to be yes, but in a new way. When we walk His path, taking new steps into the unknown that He directs we will be comforted with His great comfort. And that is way better than just being comfortable.

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Rest is a practical need and a divine gift.  The pace of life seemingly screams “hurry”, “speed up”, “get ‘er done”, “go, go, GO!”  In such an environment it is not surprising so many suffer the consequences of such a hectic pace – disconnectedness, shallowness in relationships, anxieties, high blood pressure, and a plethora of other maladies related to living life too fast.

Admittedly, I am a busy person who often struggles to slow down.  The fact that I have not posted in several months is an example of this busyness.  Between work, family travel, and essential chores in the limited time when I am home, I find making time to rest and then blog hard to come by.  Yet, the Spirit inside me whispers, “Rest, my son.”  “Come spend time with me in holy quiet.”  When I slow down and obey, what a blessing I receive.

As my first post in almost 3 months, the point is short and simple.  Rest is good for the soul and worth carving out the time to do.  God modeled it in His act of creation when He rested on the 7th day.  He inscribed it into the Law He gave Moses on Mount Sinai.  The Jewish people practice it with religious devotion.  Jesus affirmed the importance of the Sabbath rest, although He made it clear that the Sabbath was created FOR mankind.  It is a divine blessing to be received with thankfulness.

As I think about the divine nature of rest, I realize that slowing down, ceasing strenuous activity, and letting our mind and body recover is the visible manifestation of rest, but it is not the whole or necessarily the most important part.  The divine rest God calls us to is about connecting with Him.  This rest will align body, soul, AND spirit with God and His renewing life.  The rest God desires us to experience is not empty, but rather full of communion with Him.

For me it begins in the early morning quiet.  Inviting Him in to speak to the deepest part of me.  Listening for His still, small voice.  He is there and He is not silent.  It’s just that He seldom shouts.  He desires that we intentionally seek Him and spend time with Him.  My experience is that He blesses me with peace and renewed strength when I quietly read and meditate on His Word.  Often He will nudge my heart to pray for someone during this time.  A blessed morning quiet time is rest that establishes the foundation for the day.

The verse that is running through my mind is a familiar one.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’   Psalm 23:1-6

I pray that wherever you are, today you will experience rest that refreshes your soul and draws you close to Him Who loves you more than you can imagine.

Blessings!

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I experienced one of those “ah ha” moments this weekend.  I was speaking with a new friend about God’s goodness and blessings.  We had taken turns sharing how God had, in His grace, provided healing and protection at different points in our life. It is good to take time to remember God’s faithfulness in the past because it is a helpful reminder that when we face a trial of any kind, that God, Who has been faithful before, will be faithful in the future.

My eyes were opened to a new perspective when she shared about praying for a woman for healing on multiple occasions.  The person was very vocal about her need.  She carried her pain and woundedness around constantly asking for prayer and comfort.  My friend had prayed for her and had even gathered a group together to pray for the woman.  After some time of praying though my friend sensed the Holy Spirit tell her that it was time to stop praying.  That the woman being prayed for didn’t really desire to be healed, but rather she wanted the attention and sympathy her illness brought her.

When she said that I suddenly realized what a big truth that is.  ‘When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. ‘  James 4:3  What pleased this woman more than receiving God’s healing was being the center of attention.  She had become comfortable in her condition and was satisfied with the sympathy of others.

The picture that came into my mind was of a person lifting their hands to God in supplication asking for a gift from Him, but their hands were full of tightly clenched “other stuff”.  Even if God offered to give what was requested they would have to release what they currently had to receive the gift from the Lord.  And many are not willing.

Lest you mistakenly think I am condescending in this, please know that the hands I am seeing are my own.  This is not simply a believer versus non-believer issue.  This is true of all gifts and all growth in faith.  As a believer I have grown by steps and stalls.  I can see that some of the stalls have been when I have tightly held onto a thing, a desire, a belief, that the Lord wanted me to lay down.  And the steps have been when in obedient trust I have released and lifted open hands to Him for whatever He has in store.  In some cases it was a blessing pure and simple.  In others it was a blessing disguised as a trial, but a blessing none-the-less.

For the person who does not yet know the Lord, the things they hold onto can cause them to miss out on the greatest gift of all, a relationship with the living Lord.  Holding onto pain from the past, unforgiveness toward someone, lifestyle choices contrary to God’s plan are all abundant life limiters.  The Lord is a good, good Father.  He is perfect in how He parents.  He is neither over-indulgent nor overly stern.  And like any good Father, He enjoys blessing His children.

Today, I encourage you to ask the Lord, “What is it I’m holding onto that I need to release?”  And then listen… and obey.  The second question is then totally appropriate.  “Lord, what do you want me to receive?”  The follow up to this question is a bit more open-ended.  He may answer that long requested prayer… or put a new desire in your heart… or simply bless you with His overwhelming peace.  Regardless, you can know that in releasing what’s in your hand, you make room for God’s “something better” in your life.  And that’s the path to the abundant life He desires each of us to experience.

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As Jesus followers we have access to the most powerful force in the universe.  Paul writes about it in his salutation to the church in Ephesus.

‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, ‘   Ephesians 1:18-20

My last post discussed how our emotions can lead us to believe a lie.  There is so much information being disseminated that is not accurate, whether intentionally or simply in error, that it is easy to absorb, believe, and emote based upon untruth.  Once we have believed a lie, especially when it has evoked strong emotion, it becomes easier to believe supporting lies and harder to discern the truth from the lie.

I do not believe it coincidental that the word in my quiet and prayer following that post was power.  Repeatedly yesterday the reality of God’s power was emphasized… beginning with God’s power demonstrated in raising Jesus from the dead, continuing with the power Jesus exhibited in healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, and ministering to the humble and meek.  That power was then compared to our sun which provides our light, warmth, and sufficient energy to sustain life on this big, blue ball we call home even though it is over 93 million miles away.  While the sun in powerful, the One who created it had to be even more powerful to create it and all that is.

Finally, I saw the power of God in the ability to change a mind… to direct us onto the right course… to deliver the opioid-addict and bring them to health and wholeness… to turn a prodigal toward home… to open our eyes to the lies and half-truths we have embraced and to see and seek truth… to bring us ever closer to Him Who is the Lover of our souls.

That same power is continually available to us as Jesus’ followers.  We are encouraged to embrace that truth and to allow Him to guide us into how He wants to make that real in us and through us.  You are saved for a reason – to know Him and to make Him known.  The Holy Spirit living within the believer is the direct connection to God’s power.  In Jesus’ last recorded words before His ascension into heaven He said,  ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ‘ Acts 1:8

I encourage you this morning to lean into Jesus more and more.  Trust in His power which saved you, sustains you, and guides you.  Read the Word and allow the truth of it to saturate your mind and spirit.  As you do so, you will become more aware and dependent upon His wisdom, His grace, and His strength to live the life He has called you to.  You will learn to discern His promptings and respond to them.  I have been fortunate to participate in miracles He has brought about.  My role was 1% of the work which was accomplished simply by being obedient to what I sensed the Holy Spirit wanted me to do.  It was God’s power that did the work – healing in some cases, deliverance in others, salvation at times. In every case God was glorified and people were blessed.

Wherever you are in your faith walk, God has next steps for you which are for your good and His glory.  He will not leave or abandon you, but rather He is right there with you encouraging you to take that next step.  I don’t know exactly what your next step is, but I know God is cheering you on, whispering words of peace, hope, and guidance.  Let today be the day you take that next step in faith.  Let today be the day you take hold of the power Paul said is available.  Let today be the day you experience joy in a new and exhilarating way.  Seize the day my friend by saying yes to Jesus and stepping out in faith.

If you are interested in watching some excellent sermons, our church broadcasts the services on Sunday and they are also saved and accessible free online.  Just go to newspring.cc/sermons.  We are in a series on the Holy Spirit right now which is very balanced and biblically accurate.  Check it out.

With the benediction today, I think I will do a throw-back to the 1970’s and say:

“More power to you!”

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I am not a fan of politics.  In fact I am quite disturbed by the shenanigans taking place in the world of politics these days.  But I realize I must not let what I read and what I hear stir me to such a state that I act purely based upon emotion and the sliver of information that has caused the emotion.  Why?  Because in most cases there is more to the story than initial reporting would lead us to believe.

Working in the industrial environment for over 35 years, with much of that being in roles handling problem-solving and root cause analysis, I’ve learned the importance of gathering data in a prompt and thorough manner.  A benefit in the industrial setting is that the equipment failure information is generally less influenced by personal bias and agendas.  There are a few instances where persons may lie to try and save themselves from perceived negative consequences of their actions, but this is far from the norm.  And it is usually easy to ferret out when the lie does not square with the rest of the evidence.

When I train persons in performing Root Cause Analysis a fundamental principle is to lay aside emotion, bias, and preconceived ideas and let the evidence guide the analysis.  Excellence in evidence collection is essential.  Excellence is not achievable if we perform our data collection with a strong belief in what the end result should be guiding our data collection and analysis.  In an equipment failure investigation, a true failure path exists with real reasons that connect together form the root causes to ultimate failure.  By gathering the evidence without regard to final remedial action steps, we enable ourselves to concentrate solely upon the accuracy of the data.  Once the data is gathered it becomes much simpler to analyze the information and read the story the evidence tells.

I was speaking with a friend last night and he made the statement that he wished there were investigative journalists who were able to dig to uncover the facts without bias.  It is discouragingly rare these days.  We both feel that for the most part bias. or worse, a hidden agenda, either in the investigative process, the analysis, or the communication, dictates the majority of what is reported.  Watching competing news networks gives the impression they are reporting upon two radically different events when at the end of the story we realize they are talking about the same thing.  When a person watches this style of reporting which is often more inflammatory rhetoric than good journalism, it is easy to get emotionally stirred, even when the evidence is thin and the analysis is poorly done.

To their defense, news outlets are in the business of reporting news as soon as it is breaking.  This necessitates early communication even before any real evidence is gathered.  This is one of the reasons law enforcement doesn’t speak freely about on-going investigations – all the data has not been gathered and the analysis hasn’t been performed.  Having been involved in well over 400 failure investigations there have been a number of times (I estimate 10 – 15%) that the initial beliefs about why a failure occurred have been flat wrong.  Additionally, the number of times the initial belief ended up being only a factor is probably about the same 10 – 15%.  Putting this in terms of a criminal court case, if we moved on the initial evidence we would send the wrong person to jail 20 – 30% of the time.

So in news reporting, if we take the first blush of information and the hypothesis we make, we can expect to be wrong at least 20 – 30% of the time.  And this is if they are giving us solid facts from the beginning.  Sadly, this is where news reporting today now gets worse rather than better.  If bias and agenda plays into the data collection, analysis, and reporting, then you can reasonably expect that the majority of the news reporting is inaccurate.  Since I make it a practice to routinely check news from three sources – NBC, CNN, and FOX, I can see this at work.  I have back-checked the record at times and the results are disturbing to say the least.  The number of major stories reported as certainties that have later been debunked is alarmingly high.  (And, yes, certain networks are definitely worse than the other, but they all have moments of getting it wrong in their rush to be first.)  Plus, the lack of correction and admission of error is astounding.  While I wish the term Fake News had died a quick death, it hasn’t.  The reason it hasn’t is because it is true enough times that the moniker finds ample opportunities to stick.

Looping back to the premise of this post, if we are not careful our emotions can be stirred to the point that we believe a lie.  Confirmation bias is a subject I have read about recently and it is one of the reasons I routinely take a look at three different networks to see not just what, but how they are reporting.  I compare what I see from these three and what I read from other sources to try and uncover what’s true.

I realize I have certain beliefs and biases myself.  I am inclined to put more weight on certain points of evidence because of those beliefs.  But even in this, I understand that more evidence is likely to come out so I try not to become emotionally stirred.  I make it my goal to gather ALL the available evidence before coming to a judgement.  Also, it is appropriate to weigh the biases of the person(s) and group providing the information.  Just like in my root cause investigations where I have to determine whether an eye witness might be misrepresenting their testimony to protect themselves from discipline, I weigh the source of the information to determine how credible it might be.  Above all I strive to remember that I can be wrong.  For a fairly confident person who prides themselves on being true, accurate, and honest this is something I strongly want to avoid.  So I try to be cautious in weighing the information and making a decisions.  And guarding my emotions is a crucial element in that process.

Now living in this place that is not always comfortable.  It would be easy to decide on what I have read and heard thus far and simply take a stand.  From that point I could then look to around to see who agrees with me and accept them as my new friends and I could even stoop to pick up rocks to hurl at the folks who believe the opposite… and I would become one more person perpetuating the problems that threaten to tear this nation apart.

But this morning I renew my intention of remaining an observer and searcher for the truth.  I may have an opinion based upon the evidence thus far, but I cannot let it dictate my emotions or even what evidence I hold onto and what evidence I discard.  At some point we will have the body of evidence and then we will see what the verdict is.  Will it be “evidentially sufficient” (J. Warner Wallace author of “Cold Case Christianity”) to make a decision?  I expect so.  Will some still clamor for the opposite opinion?  Definitely.  Will I then be able to let my emotions dictate what I believe and do?  Nope.  You see, I want to remain logical and clear-minded so I can weigh new evidence that comes forth.  I may get emotional and that’s okay.  Perhaps I’ll even experience righteous anger, which is not a bad thing so long as the anger part is properly vented.

As I’ve written this, I have wondered and prayed because this is much different than the majority of my posts.  Yet I have felt compelled to write.  The thought has rumbled around in my head for awhile, but only last night did the compulsion to blog it come about.  As I paused in writing a few moments ago to pray, Jesus words came through loud and clear.

‘To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. ‘ John 8:31-32
https://www.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.8.31-32

What Jesus said to the Jews who were following Him then, He says to us today.  If we hold on tightly to Jesus and His teaching we will know Him Who is Truth incarnate.  If we are His, then He has placed the Holy Spirit within us.  If we listen to the Holy Spirit we will be able to discern truth from error.  We will love and be lifted when we hear truth.  And we will be able to clearly see lies for what they are.  It greatly simplifies life.  With a part of my mind I will listen, observe, and consider the inputs coming in.  With my spirit I am listening, observing, and considering where the Holy Spirit is leading.  While I still fail to fully tune in at times, when I do, He is always, always there to lead and help me.  I try not to let my emotions get riled because of the news (or many other igniters of passion), but I try to hear and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  He is the Spirit of Truth.  And in Truth we can trust.

More ramble than usual, but something I had to get off my chest.  I hope this gives you points to ponder and pray about.

Have a blessed day my friend and be a blessing!

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There are many things in life that I have a hard time understanding.  The scale of the universe…time into eternity…what my wife is thinking.  (OK, actually I know what my wife is thinking a fair amount of the time, such as “what was he thinking?”, but most other times I am clueless.)  Of all the deep thoughts that fit into the category of head-scratching realities, the fact that Jesus died for me and for you is at the top of the list.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8 NIV.  This is truly mind-boggling.  But the wonder of it does not diminish the simple fact – it is true.

 

I heard a story a few years back that gave me a new perspective on this.  It seems a little girl, 7 years old, was dying of a rare blood disorder.  The doctors had done what they could with medicine, but the prognosis was grim.  In a final effort to save the little girl’s life they offered a new treatment option that had shown promise.  If they found a perfect blood match they could perform a special blood transfusion and potentially cure the little girl.

The parents said yes and the search of databases begin.  The parents plus aunts, uncles, and all extended family members were tested but no match was found.  When the results returned the father looked at his wife and asked, “What about Billy?”  The mother, heart-broken, dropped her head, hoping not to have this question posed.  With a deep sigh, she said, “we can ask him.”

The results of the test showed a perfect match.  The news was bittersweet to the parents as they knew what they were asking of Billy would mean some pain and discomfort for their little boy, but it was their final option.  They called their 5-year old son into the room with the doctor and asked him.

“Billy, Annie is very sick.  The doctors have said she won’t live much longer without special help.  You see her blood is where the sickness is and she needs new blood.”

Billy listened wide-eyed, tears forming and flowing as he thought about his big sister not being there anymore.

“But Billy,” said the Dad, “There is hope.  You see there is a person who was a perfect match to Annie.  A person who can give her blood that can make her sickness go away.”

Hope leapt into Billy’s eyes.  “Really, Daddy?  That makes me happy.  But Daddy, why do you and Mommy still look so sad?”

“Honey, you are the perfect match and it would mean you would have to undergo a procedure to give your blood to Annie,” the Mother said choking back tears.  “But it means your sister will be able to live.”

At this Billy became quiet, his little brow furrowed.  Shortly he asked one question.  “You mean if I give my blood, Annie can live and play, and make you smile Mommy.”

“That’s right honey.  You’re the only one who can do it.”

A troubled look crossed Billy’s face for a moment, but then he brightened as if a pleasing thought crossed his mind.  “OK Momma.  If it will make you happy.  I will do it.”

The medical personnel quickly began making the arrangements.  Billy was given a few minutes alone with his parents.  His Dad knelt down and gave him a big hug and told him what a brave young man he was.  Billy’s smile was sad, but it was evident he wanted to be brave and please his Daddy.  Momma held his hand and looked him in the eye and said, “Billy, this is the most loving thing you can ever do for your sister.  I am so thankful for you, son.”  While a tear ran down her face, she was also giving Billy a smile.  Billy leaned into his Momma’s hug.

“That’s a happy tear, right Momma?  Like you told me last year when Aunt Sally got married.  I wondered why you were crying and smiling and laughing all at the same time, but you said they were happy tears.”

“That’s right dear.  That’s a happy tear, because my little boy is going to help save my little girl’s life.”

Soon the nurse came and took Billy away to prep him.  He cried a little as he looked back at Momma and Daddy, but he tried to smile so they could be happy tears.

In the transfusion lab, Annie, pale and listless, was wheeled in and connected to the blood transfer machine.  Two nurses bustled about checking vitals on machine and patient, making sure the procedure had the highest possible chance for success.

A little later Billy was wheeled in, his clothes replaced with a hospital gown, a pic line already inserted in his arm ready to begin the blood draw.  Because he was so young, a parent, Momma, was allowed in the room.  Billy’s face was tense, something significantly out of place on one so young.  When he saw Momma he relaxed a little.  Then he saw his sister Annie lying on the gurney on the other side of the machines.  His look became determined.  “This is going to help Annie, right Momma?”

“Yes dear, Annie is going to be able to recover because of what you are doing.”

“Then I’m happy Momma.  I’m glad this will help Sissy.”

A few minutes later a nurse bent down to let them know the procedure was about to start.  Billy bravely squeezed Momma’s hand a little tighter.

“OK” he said as he looked into Momma’s eyes.  The machine was switched on, and a quiet whirring began.  Within just a few minutes Annie’s color began to change as her blood was removed, cleansed and then mixed with Billy’s healthy blood.  Billy broke his gaze from Momma just long enough to look at Annie and to see the change.  He turned back to Momma.

A tear was now running down his cheek.  “How much longer Momma?”

“Not much longer,” she said as she too had turned to notice the change in Annie.  Hope was growing in Momma and Billy could see it.

“Will it hurt Momma?”

“I’m sorry dear, does the pic line hurt.”

“No Momma.  I mean when all my blood is gone and I’m dead.  Will it hurt?”

Momma gasped.  Billy had misunderstood.  He didn’t realize he was only giving a little of his blood to mix with his Sissy’s blood.  He thought he was giving it all…

 

‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Romans 5:6-8

Jesus held no illusions when He came to earth.  He came on a rescue mission.  There were no other options.  It was His blood that was going to save the day.

But unlike Billy, Jesus was shedding all His blood for ALL mankind.  Every person who has ever lived, was alive then, or was to live in the future were being given an antidote to the terminal illness of sin.

He was also different from Billy, He didn’t just think He was going to die, He knew He was going to die.  He knew not only pain and suffering were in His path, but humiliation and, sadly, rejection.  Yet He bravely faced it.

‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!’  Philippians 2:5-8

Jesus was God, who became a man, who walked this earth for 30+ years, and at the culmination of His earthly life, He paid the penalty for sin for everyone – for you and for me.  And then He put an exclamation mark on this selfless act by rising from the dead three days later and ascending into heaven.  He sits there today at the right hand of God the Father.  But He isn’t grim-faced.  No, He has a warm and inviting smile and His arms are outstretched toward us, beckoning with His nail-pierced hands.

“Come to me.  Come home.  Lay down your striving and join me.  We have much to talk about.  And in the time you have left on earth there are things to do, things that only you and I can do.  Come home to me and let’s talk.  I love you and I desire to live with you and to put my Holy Spirit inside you to help you from now on.”

Say yes to Jesus, my friend.  You will never be the same.

Blessings upon you.

 

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A recurring prayer for me goes something like this.  “Thank you Lord for all the blessings you’ve poured out on my family and on me.  I don’t deserve it, but I thank you for it.”  And then I wonder why I am so favored.  Now I need to put this in context before I go too far.  We have had our share of difficulties.  Perhaps not the tragedies some have experienced, but difficulties just the same – my wife’s shattered leg in 2012, my near heart attack in 2014, my job loss at the beginning of 2015, my broken shoulder in 2017 to name a few.  Yet, whatever direction I look, I see God’s goodness poured out… not just on me, but on so many people that I know.  He is indeed good… all the time.  And I wonder anew, “Lord why are you so good to me?”  Today as I have thought of this I think I have at least a little different perspective to share.

Being a father for 33 years, I know a daddy’s love for his children.  We just finished souvenir shopping for our four children and four grandchildren.  This is my wife’s time to lead and I dutifully follow.  As I watch and respond to her questions I realize she is seeking the perfect balance.  She wants to get them something they will enjoy, but that is also beneficial.  No to excess sugar and candy, yes to clothing that says laid-back Hawaii.  No to things with sharp edges or that can choke a little one, yes to cuddly and cute.  Since God is the perfect Father, He wants to give us gifts that achieve that perfect balance in our lives.  He knows our talents, our personality, our likes and dislikes.  He knows what is best for us.  His gifts are meant to draw us to himself since a deep and growing relationship with Him is what we are created for.  And just like giving gifts to our children warms my wife’s heart, I sense that God is also pleased when He is able to give us good gifts that bring us joy.  Oh, and when we recognize and give Him thanks, the mutual joy is amplified.

I believe the Father loves to hear us laugh and this is frequently one of the purposes of God’s blessings.  In some cases it may be the only reason.  But at other times God has multiple motives behind the gift given.

Being open to and responsive to the Lord’s leading in gift-receiving and gift-giving is an acquired wisdom.  God will bless us so that we can in turn bless others.  Giving of tithes and offerings is a tangible demonstration of finding our place in God’s economy of blessing.  Less formal but just as important is being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading to provide help for someone when the Lord prompts us to.  Our home group purchased a moped for a young woman in difficult circumstances recently and we know it was a God assignment.  Today we are excited to see what God is going to do through this simple act of passing His blessing on.

There is one other aspect that I believe the Lord wants us to understand about His blessing, but I hesitate for fear I will not be able to adequately explain.  It is that obedience brings blessing.  As we live life the way God desires us to live, we will experience His protection, His provision, and His favor.  The Holy Scriptures contain God’s blueprint for life.  Everything necessary to know how to enter a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe is there.  However, it is spiritually discerned.  That means God Himself must be living within us by His Holy Spirit for us to read, understand, and apply the truth contained in the scriptures.  Sadly just knowing the scriptures isn’t enough.  The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were thoroughly knowledgeable of the scriptures, yet they crucified the one the scriptures foretold.

There is a progression in this flow.  The first is to recognize that there is a Creator of all that is.  He has been called many things… El Sahddai, Elohim, The LORD God, Almighty God, but it is safe to call Him God.

Second is to search for Truth.  When we honestly and openly search for Truth, asking God to guide us to Truth we will run into Jesus.  There are numerous reasons this is true, but suffice today I’ll point out the one I know to be true and unassailable.  Jesus’ resurrection proves He was Who He said He was – God’s one and only Son, sent to redeem mankind through His sacrificial death on the cross.

Third, once we recognize Jesus for Who He says He is, it is only right to surrender our life to Him and take up the life He is calling us to.  It is a life of dying to poor life choices, bad decisions, and irresponsibility.  It is letting go of living according to your own agenda and morality and learning how to live a life that aligns with God’s game plan for life.  It is saying yes to Jesus in how we live.

Fourth is to ask Jesus to help us to know Him better and to live the life God desires us to live.  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to help us live life the way God intends.  He never takes away our ability to choose whether to follow or not.  In fact He partners with us in the work of transformation, but He will do the heavy lifting if we simply turn to Him and ask for His help.

As we live a life of consistent obedience, God’s blessings will flow.  It is not that we are immune to difficulties, but knowing God and trusting Him provides a solid place to stand even when all around is shaking and unsettled.  And when we thank Him in the midst of the hard and difficult, when our suffering is wrapped in thanking God for being with us in the storm, we will know His peace and comfort, which is one of the greatest of His blessings to His children.

As I shared in an earlier post, my wife and I are celebrating our 33rd anniversary in Hawaii.  I am going to post a few more pics of our trip for those who are interested.  The week has contained a snapshot of life.  We’ve experienced a good bit of clouds, rain, and wind.  The conditions were not always ideal.  But through it all God has been with us, showing us His love and care.  We have thrilled with new adventures and quiet times together.  Today the sun broke through and it is gloriously beautiful.  It happened just in time for a morning helicopter ride… with the doors off and a sunset on Waikiki Beach.

Wherever you are in life, know that God loves you and He is for you.  If you are at one of those points of progression that I mention above and you would like to know more, please drop me a comment.  I would be happy to chat and pray.  It’s what I’m supposed to do.  In the meantime, enjoy the pics. and be blessed today.  And don’t forget to pass the blessing on!

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Throughout our stay in Hawaii we heard “Aloha!” both in greeting and as a goodbye.  Every tour guide we met referred to the importance of the word in conveying the Hawaiian sense of love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy.  It was always said with a smile and, in many cases, with a hug or a kiss on the cheek.

We attended a Luau one night and the Chief spoke of the ancient roots of the word in the Polynesian language.  It seems the word is the combination of “Alo” which means to meet or stand face to face and the word “Ha” which carries the sense of breath or life or spirit.  So it has a sense of being in close connection with another and sharing the same breath or sharing life together.

As I heard this description my mind went to Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples after His resurrection.  It’s recorded in the 20th chapter of the book of John.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” ‘  John 20:19-22

Jesus is unique among all religious leaders.  In fact, Jesus would scoff at being called a religious leader.  Jesus spoke very plainly and clearly about Who He was.  He said He was God’s Son.  He said there was only one way to enter into a face to face relationship with God and that was through Him.  His disciples didn’t understand what He meant when He first told them, but with His resurrection, the truth began to become clear.  Jesus was God’s solution to man’s problem.  God is Holy and Perfect.  Sin cannot stand in God’s presence, yet His love desires to be joined with His children.  Therefore imperfect people cannot stand in God’s presence, but Jesus intervened on our behalf and in our place.  That’s what the cross was.  Jesus accepting the punishment for sin, for our sin, in our place so that we could be able to enter into a relationship with God.

I mentioned that Jesus was unique.  Others have made mighty proclamations.  But no others have been able to demonstrate their deity because they were mere men or women.  Only Jesus conquered death.  Only Jesus rose from the grave to be witnessed by hundreds after a very public and very real death.  Jesus proved Who He was by His resurrection. That proof is also supported by the transformed lives of thousands into millions who have experienced a personal relationship with the living Lord.  I am one of them.

Jesus may not be Hawaiian, but I believe He is probably okay with the definition of Aloha that the chief gave at our Luau.  I know He is calling people to come meet with Him face to face, to put their trust in Him, to turn from a life of trusting anything and everything else and to turn to Him.  Jesus is waiting.  He wants to breath His Spirit into His children.  Let today be the day you lean into Jesus and say “Yes”… you put your trust in Him and say “I’m Yours”… you step off the throne of your life and say, “My Lord and my God.”  If you speak Hawaiian, you just might hear Him say, “Aloha, my child.  I’ve been waiting for this moment since the day I first thought of you.  Receive My Spirit and enter my rest.”

Be blessed my friends and pass it on!

Note: These pictures are from our first full day in Oahu when we took the Ultimate Circle Tour of Oahu with our guide, Levent, and a van full of new friends like Sandra, Johnny, Fred, and Gail.  (Sorry we got separated at the end of the day like we did.  Hope you had a great wrap-up to your trip.)

Please feel free to view an download any pics that you like.  More to follow in the coming days.

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I have a problem that I must confess. I have wanderlust. Wikipedia defines wanderlust as the strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world. It has become a passion of ours to see new places, meet new people, experience new cultures, and learn new things. This week my wife and I are on a getaway celebrating our 33rd anniversary. We are in Oahu, Hawaii at a hotel on Waikiki Beach. While most of our trips are planned out a year or more in advance, this one dropped into our schedule 2 months ago when a “deal” fell in our lap. Now wanderlust itself is neutral, not necessarily good or bad. Like any strong impulse though it has the potential of becoming an idol. And this morning a disquiet has settled upon me as I realize I must deal with this reality in my life.

The standard definition of idol is an image representing a deity or god. A little broader definition of idol that better captures the message conveyed in scripture is anything that takes the ultimate place of priority in our life other than the Lord God. When I look around I see many people giving the place of priority in their life to people, things, and experiences other than God. It is incredibly sad to see a child so doted upon by their parents that they begin to actually believe the world revolves around them. In this case the parents often make the child an idol reinforcing the natural self-centered tendency that most of us struggle with. Or the person who is obviously wealthy to the point they lack no material comfort, yet they continue the quest to acquire, have, and hold onto because stuff, or position, or power has become their god. Not only can I see this in others, but when I turn and look inside, I realize this tendency to elevate people, things, or experiences to an unhealthy level still resides in me.

I recognized the uneasiness stirring in me later in the day yesterday as we filled a second day with adventure. Meeting our photography tour guide at 5:20 am to begin a Sunrise Photography tour, we had the briefest of times for our devotional. From then on the day was busy. I laid my head down at 10:00 pm Hawaii time with thoughts of things done, things still to do, plans still to be made. Body exhausted, my mind was still busy, but sadly, God was not in my first thoughts. Honestly, I didn’t pause to really spend time talking and listening to Him much at all.

For me, clarity often comes in the morning and so it was today. It is a real issue and I am ready to deal with it. I slipped out on the balcony about 4:30 am, confessing my waywardness and ready to make changes. The Lord put in mind capturing my thoughts (hence you are reading them now) and to open the Word. As He often does a snippet of scripture was persistent in my mind… “Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?”

I looked it up and had to laugh. Psalm 42 is what I was looking for. I made bold the verses that made me laugh because we are in Hawaii, visiting waterfalls and swimming in the pounding surf. God can be very specific (or in this case Pacific) when He needs to be. At the end I will close with the Psalm since God fully deserves the final word.

You see, God wants us to enjoy good things. He loves people and wants us to love them fully… with His love. He has no problem with our use and enjoyment of things. He lovingly provides them for our benefit and use. And life is made rich by new and varied experiences. God works in these experiences to stretch and grow us. The issue is simply do we have God in the proper place in our lives or is He an after-thought?.. Or is He even considered at all? Are we living a life that makes knowing God and growing in that relationship with Him the pivot point of our life? Are we living in such a manner that others recognize that He is real by the way we live?

I see my disquiet for what it is, a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit to check my priorities and be sure God was not lost in our enjoyment of this beautiful place. And so, Lord I do. You are my priority. I put my hope in You.

‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.’ Psalm 42:1-11

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